It’s December again, and the world needs your novel

Wow. It is December, 2017. Another year ends.
Time for reflection!

I could do the standard New Year's resolutions thing, or I could do the standard reflect on all the good in your life thing, too. I’m not sure I want to do that. What to talk about? OK, let’s talk about my favorite virtue!

If you know me, you know that I am really big on courage. I think most of the world’s ills stem from people not exercising their courage.
It takes courage to be kind.
It takes courage to live your truth.
It takes courage to forgive people – especially yourself.
It takes courage to be honest.
It takes courage to change your mind.
It takes courage to write a book.

So ask yourself, were you courageous in 2017?

RMFW is a writer’s organization. It is filled with people who believe they have a story to tell. Did you tell your story? Did you go to our monthly programs to learn craft, or take an online class? Did you go to one of the announced book signings, or to the Writer of the Year panel? (I’ve always found those fascinating.) Did you listen to the RMFW podcast or join a critique group? Did you go to the Colorado Gold Conference? Did you finish your book? Did you start it? Why?

Did you do everything in your power to tell your story?

Writing a book is a courageous act, in and of itself. It’s a daunting task filled with self-doubt and fear. There are people who will question your passion, question your reasoning, and question your resolve to be an author. In spite of them, you still have this dream. You, gentle reader, should be praised for even attempting it.

But I don’t want you to stop with the attempt. I want you to celebrate the end of your journey. I want you to write that book!

I know you’re super busy with work and young children. I know you’ve got relatives to worry about. I know you’ve got a thousand different things on your plate that should get done before you write your story. I get it. But listen, if you don’t make your story a priority in your life, who will?

If you wrote 500 words a day, five days a week, in 32 weeks you would have an 80,000-word book! That’s eight months of writing. If you wrote 600 words a day, you could cut a month off of that time.

Does it sound daunting? Does it sound scary? Well, good. Now I’ve got your attention. All you have to do is write. Everything will fall into place once you begin to write. Don’t worry about that shady character in chapter three. Don’t worry about how the star-crossed lovers are going to get together. Don’t worry about the sea of zombies, beavers, or zombie-beavers that are the standing in the way of your protagonist. Find a solution, even if you don’t like it. Go with it. Let go of your desire for perfection. I don’t remember who said it, but perfection is the ally of procrastination. There will never be a perfect time to write your book. The washing machine will break. You will lose your job. The kids will get sick. In spite of all of that, write your book.

Write your book with its run-on sentences and misspelled words. Write your book with its flawed premise and its lack of scientific or historical accuracy. Write your book with its bad dialogue. All of that can be edited. A flawed written book is much easier to fix than a flawed unwritten book. Put your butt in a seat with your favorite beverage and computer and write. You don’t need a lot of courage. Just enough to begin.

Chris Baty, founder of NaNoWriMo, is fond of saying “The world needs your novel.” I agree. The world does need your novel.

So write your book.

Pushing Through The Middle: Tips for the NaNoWriMo Crowd and Other First Drafters

by Lori DeBoer

DeBoerIf you are hitting your daily word count (about 1,666) for National Novel Writing Month, by the time this post is published you’ll be nearly about halfway through your 50,000-word goal and sailing into the middle stretch of your novel.

This is where the story gets complicated. The middle passage is the longest section of your novel. The plot should thicken, the stakes should increase and your protagonist(s) should be thwarted at every turn.  Your narrative arc should be more mountainous than curvy, and climbing steeply.

This is also the point where your story is most likely to stall. If you’ve been "pansting,” the honeymoon with your big idea and great beginning may be over.  Even plotters can lose their confidence and momentum in the middle passages.

If you find yourself bogged down or stalled altogether, here’s a few tricks to get you going:

Look How Far You’ve Come
Instead of contemplating how far you have to go, look at how much you’ve already written. Print out your manuscript to give it some heft.

Don’t Start Revising
There’s nothing more tempting than revising when the path ahead is murky.  After all, rewriting is an important part of writing, right?  Yes, but not when you are drafting.  You’ll have plenty of time to revisit those first few chapters after you plot a course through your first draft.

Create Some Go-Getters
One of the biggest story stalls is characters who are merely responding to events in the story.  If your characters don’t have desires, they don’t have goals and a plan of action is out of the question. The easiest way to figure out what happens next is by giving your character some volition. The hero’s journey only begins by answering the call to action, not by hitting the snooze button.

Raise the Stakes
Now that your characters have a plan, ask yourself what happens if they fail.  If there are no stakes—personal and public—then there’s no reason for your character to keep going.  Until your characters have a real reason to pursue their goals, your writing is going to feel like rolling a boulder up a mountain.

Set Incremental Goals
The end game may be clear to you, but how is your character going to get there? Consider the smaller steps that need to be taken before the story’s climax can occur.  Frodo and Sam don’t just go waltzing to Mount Doom with the Ring; first they need to escape from Orcs, traitors, spiders and other dark creatures and trek through some terrible terrain with a sketchy guide.

Arm the Opposition
If your characters are not thwarted at every turn, if their incremental goals are attained without much effort and everybody in your story world is getting along swimmingly, then you don’t have a novel, you have a really long, typed daydream.  Examine your scenes to see if they are conflict-free or conflict-riddled.  Is your main character only fighting internal demons, or is there some external opposition, a worthwhile antagonist?  Once your characters have someone messing with them, the story will pick up steam. In the Sookie Stackhouse world created by Charlaine Harris, even lovers aren’t a girl’s best friend and bosom buddies can be out for blood.

Get Your Characters Out of the House
If your character is the literary equivalent of a shut-in, get him or her out and about in the world. Or, bring the world busting into the house.  The Harry Potter series would have fell flat had our young wizard sequestered himself in his closet under the stairs.

Give Your Characters a Project
If your conflict is all about the internal world, give your characters a project to externalize the problem. If you are writing in certain genres, you might call this project a quest. Either way, giving your characters something larger to do, something to obsess over, makes the writing less episodic. In The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Pankhurst, the main character is a linguist who spends the book trying to teach his dog--the only witness to his wife’s death--to talk.

Stop While You Still Have Steam
Your writing sessions should end while you still have some steam, not when you are stalled out. That way, getting back to work will seem like less of a chore. As Ernest Hemingway said:  “I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”

What other strategies do those seasoned authors among use to push through the middle passages of their novel?

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Lori DeBoer is an author, freelance journalist and writing coach whose work has appeared in The Bellevue Literary Review, The New York Times and Arizona Highways. She has contributed essays on writing to Mamaphonic: Balancing Motherhood and Other Creative Acts, Keep It Real: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know About Research and Writing Creative Nonfiction and A Million Little Choices: The ABCs of CNF. She founded the Boulder Writers’ Workshop and is a homeschooling mom. She and her husband Michael and son Max live in Boulder.

For more about Lori, please visit her website and blog.